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“Stan Goldberg brings wisdom and personal experience as a caregiver and hospice volunteer to this compassionate and honest guide to providing care for one who is chronically or terminally ill. Written from the perspective of both the caregiver and the one who is receiving the care, it is a sensitive, rich, and often compelling resource.”

– Andy Miller, MHSE, MCHES, Executive Vice President of Mission, LIVESTRONG, LANCE ARMSTRONG FOUNDATION

Excerpt from Leaning Into Sharp Points: Practical Guidance and Nurturing Support for Caregivers.

I would sit for long periods with Jim in his kitchen when Lisa slept. He was a large man who had laid bricks his entire life, until he retired, five years before Lisa received a terminal prognosis of congestive heart failure. Unlike her husband, Lisa was very small, and, in the words of Jim, “the disease shrank her to the size of a tiny bird.”

“Neither of us is into the touchy-feely stuff,” Jim said to me one day. “Lisa and I have been married for almost fifty years. Before we knew she was dying, I don’t remember the last time I told her that I loved her. But she knew it by the things I did. We came home from the doctor’s office that day, the day Dr. Louis said she would be the one to leave first, and we sat at this kitchen table and had coffee. Mind you, there was nothing special about us sitting here. We did that almost every day. It was a kind of ritual.

“We never talked when we drank our coffee. She usually had a book, some woman’s novel I’d never look at, and I had a newspaper folded back to the sports section, which she wouldn’t read even if nothing else was around. We’d sit there every morning, year in, year out, not even looking at each other, just reading and drinking coffee. Well, it usually took us about fifteen minutes to drink a cup. We’d hang around it, you know. Not really drinking it, just being together without fussing.

“We started doing the same thing that day when we returned from the doctor’s office. I was hiding behind the newspaper when Lisa reached her hand over the table and held mine. I put my paper down and she saw my tears.

“Jim,” she said, “I love you. I always have, and I’m sorry I’ll be leaving you.” Well, I started bawling. Can you imagine that? Me, a guy who never cried. My father taught me that men should hold in their feelings. We must have held each other’s hand, not saying anything, for a good five minutes. That was longer than I could ever remember doing. Finally, I told her how much I loved her and what she had meant to me all these years. It was as if one of my brick walls tumbled over and I was able to say things I hadn’t even thought about for years, maybe never.

“From that day on, I’ve told her how important she’s been to me. I know I’ll miss her when she’s gone, but I’ll have the memories of the last six months we had together.”

Lisa died three weeks later with Jim holding her in his arms. Just as he predicted, he was lonely without her, but at the memorial service he spoke about their last months together and how important it was to him that he was able to relive their wonderful life together by recalling his memories. The grief was still palpable but, I believe, less painful than it would have been had they not had those incredibly honest discussions about their intertwined lives. Instead of being hobbled by what wasn’t said and done, he was able to reflect on some of the most honest and meaningful conversations he and his wife ever had.  It’s never too early to start these conversations with a loved one.


14 Responses

  1. cathy arnett

    I understand Ms Dupre’s comment about grieving being a continuing thing that can last for many years. In my case, my sister and her 12 y.o. daughter were killed in a tragic , swift auto accident over 34 years ago. This kind of ” sudden” death is something out of the blue that, until that point, I thought only happened to other people.
    Going to grief workshops and being with others who have or are dealing with issues similar to mine has been very helpful.
    This tragedy also has helped me be a more understanding person , and much more compassionate than I would have been had this experience not occurred.
    It’s very difficult for me to attend anyone’s funeral, though, as all funerals remind me of the one I attended in 1981..and I tend to re live the pain once again.

    • Stan Goldberg

      Grief is transformative, but not necessarily in the best of ways. We can’t help seeing life differently after losing someone, an ability, or even important object. We tend to live through our personal history.It’s never really a question of not being changed by grief. The real question is how coping with it will change our lives.

  2. Mary Hamilton

    It doesn’t matter how one tries to prepare, there is really no emotional advance preparation for the loss of a loved one. We only fool ourselves if we think we are prepared. That’s why it is important to live each day as though it is our last and give to the moment all we have to give, unconditionally. I can only imagine, but I’m sure I haven’t tapped the surface. Thank you for sharing this with us, Stan. God bless you!!

    • Stan Goldberg

      Hi Mary,

      I agree with you completely. There is such a difference between what we think will happen and what does that often we are shocked about the discrepancy. We shouldn’t–that’s life!

      Take Care,

  3. Daron Lehneis

    This blog is fantastic. I look forward to reading more. My Cousin was diagnosed with Renal Cancer. We have now been fighting cancer for over 20 months. Thank you for your hope. Fight the fight!!

  4. Katharine Dupre

    Grieving is a continuing thing that may last many years. I know this first hand as I lost two of my daughters within five months following long term illnesses of different types. It’s hard but I think of them often and keep in contact with my grandchildren.

    • Stan Goldberg

      Hi Katharine,

      It’s been my experience that grief cause by the death of a child, regardless of what their age, is probably the most difficult to overcome and lasts the longest. As a friend of mine who lost her adult son said, “The grief never goes away, it just takes another form.”

      Take Care,

  5. Anita C Hill

    Thank you for this story and relfection about grieving. My sister is dying 1,000 miles away and I long for time just holding her hand. Brain cancer has stolen her capacity to hold any more conversations. I’m so glad I had time with her a few months back. Your message has helped me today.

  6. Carol Newman

    I shudder at the thought of one of us, me or my husband of 17 years, going first. Good to hear how someone else managed it. Thanks, Stan.

    • Stan Goldberg

      Hi Carol,

      When it occurred to me that my wife might die before me, I began having conversations with her that I would have looked back at and said “if only….” It’s good to begin the “thank you” conversations early.

  7. Dorothy Cafran

    As illustrated here, knowing one is terminal offers the opportunity to say things that may be otherwise left unsaid had the death been sudden and unexpected. This is a priceless gift.


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